Emily rubbed the towel down her body and wrapped it around her hair. When she yanked open the bathroom door the cold air of the hall rushed in. She shuddered, careful not to look at the flat plane of her stomach in the mirror as she left.
There was no one in the house, so she walked to her bedroom nude. She straightened her bed and tucked Chris's sweatshirt, the one that smelled like him, around her pillow. But she left her dirty clothes piled on the floor, to give her parents something familiar to come home to.
She sat down at her desk, the towel loose now around her shoulders. There was a stack of art school applications-Rhode Island School of Design, and the Sorbonne, right on top. A blank pad, used for homework.
Should she leave a note?
She picked up a pencil and pressed the tip to the paper, digging hard enough to leave a mark. What did you say to the people who had given you life, when you were about to intentionally throw that gift away? With a sigh, Emily threw down the pencil. You didn't. You didn't say anything, because they'd read between the lines for what you left out, and believe that it was all their fault.
As if that reminded her, she dug in her nightstand for a small, clothbound book, and took it over to the closet. Inside, behind the stack of her shoe-boxes, was a small hole, eaten away by squirrels years ago and used, when she and Chris were little, for the stash of secret treasures.
As she reached inside, she found a folded piece of paper. A lemon-juice message, invisible ink that had been revealed when held over a candle flame. She and Chris must have been about ten. They'd passed notes in a tin-can pulley system linked between their bedroom windows, before the fishing line had tangled in the branches of the trees. Emily ran her finger over the torn edges of the paper and smiled. I am coming to save you, Chris had written. If she remembered right, she'd been grounded at the time. Chris had scaled the rose trellis on the side of the house, planning to enter the bathroom window to spring her from her cell-but he'd fallen and broken his arm instead.
She crumpled the paper into her fist. So. This wasn't the first time he'd be saving her by letting her go.
Emily wound her hair into a French braid and went to lie down on the bed. And she stayed that way-naked, the message tight in her palm-until she heard Chris start his car in the driveway next door.
When Chris turned fifteen, the world had become unfamiliar. Time moved too quickly and impossibly slow all at once; no one seemed to understand what he was saying; ebbs and surges tingled his limbs and stretched his skin. He remembered one summer afternoon, when he and Em had been lazing on a raft in the pond; he had fallen asleep in the middle of one of her sentences and woke up with the sun lower and hotter and Emily still talking, as if both everything and nothing at all had changed.
It was like that, again, now. Emily, whose face Chris could trace with his eyes shut, was suddenly unrecognizable. He'd wanted to give her time to see how crazy this idea was, but all the time had run out and the whole nightmare had snowballed, huge and unwieldy, impossible for Chris to stop in its path. He wanted to save her life-so he was pretending to help her to die. On the one hand, he felt powerless in a world too big for him to alter; on the other hand, his world had shrunk to the head of a pin with room for nothing but him and Emily and their pact. He was paralyzed by indecision-believing with all the unshakable drama of adolescence that he could handle something as enormous as this, and at the same time wanting to whisper the truth in his mother's ear so that she could make it go away.
His hands shook so much he had taken to sitting on them, and there were moments when he was convinced he was losing his mind. He thought of this as a competition he simply had to win, and in the same moment reminded himself that no one died at the end of a race.
He wondered how time had moved so quickly since the night Emily had told him. He wished it would move faster, so that he would be an adult, and like all other adults, would be unable to remember this time of his life clearly.
He wondered why he felt like the road was crumbling beneath him, when he'd only been trying to drive slowly through a safety zone.
She slid into the passenger seat, in a motion so familiar that Chris had to close his eyes against the sight of it. "Hi," she said, like always. Chris pulled out of her driveway feeling as if someone had changed the plot of a play he was acting in, forgetting to mention it to him.
They had just rounded the curve of Wood Hollow Road when Emily asked him to pull over. "I want to see it," she said.
Her voice had that high note of excitement, and her eyes, now that he could see them, were glassy and bright. Like she had a fever. And Chris wondered if this wasn't, after all, something that was running through her blood.
He reached into his coat and withdrew the gun, wrapped in a chamois. Emily held out her hand, hesitating to touch it. Then she ran her forefinger down its barrel. "Thank you," she whispered, sounding relieved. "The bullet," she said suddenly. "You didn't forget it?"
Chris patted his pocket.
Emily stared at his hand, covering the heart of his shirt, and then at his face. "Aren't you going to say anything?"
"No," Chris said. "I'm not."
It had been Emily's idea to go to the carousel. In part, because she knew it was likely to be deserted at this time of year, and in part because she was making a conscious effort to take with her all the best things about the world she wanted to leave, just in case memories could be car-ried in one's pockets and used to plot out the course of whatever it was that came next.
She had always loved the carousel. The past two summers, when Chris had run it, she'd met him here often. They had christened the horses: Tulip and Leroy; Sadie and Starlight and Buck. Sometimes she'd come during the day and help Chris hoist the thick, damp weights of toddlers onto the carved saddles; sometimes she'd arrive at dusk to help him clean up. She'd liked that best. There was something impossibly lovely about the big machine running itself down, horses moving in slow motion to the creak and whir of the gears.
She didn't feel frightened. Now that she'd found a way out, even the thought of dying didn't scare her. She just wanted to end it before other people she loved were hurt as badly as she was.
She looked at Chris, and at the small silver box that contained the mechanism that activated the carousel. "Do you still have your key?" she asked.
The wind whipped her braid against her cheek, and her arms were crossed in an effort to keep warm. "Yeah," Chris said. "You want to go on?"
"Please." She climbed onto the carousel, passing her hand against the noses of the sturdy horses. She picked the one she'd named Delilah, a white horse with a silver mane and paste rubies and emeralds set into her bridle. Chris stood by the silver box, his hand on the red button that started the machine. Emily felt the carousel rumble to life beneath her, the calliope jangling as the merry-go-round picked up speed. She slapped the cracked leather of the reins against the horse's neck and closed her eyes.
She pictured herself and Chris, little children standing side by side on a backyard boulder, holding hands and leaping together into a high pile of autumn leaves. She remembered the jewel tones of the maples and oaks. She remembered the yank of her arm against Chris's as gravity tugged at them. But most of all she remembered that moment when they were both convinced they were flying.
He STOOD ON LEVEL GROUND and watched Emily. Her head was thrown back and the wind had pinked her cheeks. Tears were streaming from her eyes, but she was smiling.
This, he realized, is it. Either he let Emily have what she wanted more than anything, or he let himself have what he wanted. It was the first time he could remember those two things not being the same.
How could he stand by and watch her die? Then again, how could he stop her, if she was hurting so badly?
Emily had trusted him, but he was going to betray her. And then the next time she tried to kill herself-because there would be a next time, he knew-he wouldn't find out until after the fact. Like everyone else.
He felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. Was he really considering what he thought he was?
He tried to clear his head the way he did before a meet, so that the only thing in his mind was the straightest, fastest path from here to there. But this time, it would not be that easy. There was no right way. There was no guarantee that both of them would make it to the other side.
Shivering, he focused on the long, white line of her throat, the beat at its hollow. He kept his eyes on her pulse as she disappeared out of his range
of vision to the far side of the carousel, holding his breath until he saw her coming back to him.
They SAT ON THE CAROUSEL BENCH where mothers rode with the tiniest babies, the wood bubbly and thick beneath their hands from consecutive coats of paint. The bottle of Canadian Club rested between Chris's feet. He felt Emily shaking beside him, and preferred to think that she might be cold. Leaning over, he buttoned her jacket all the way. "You don't want to get sick," he said, and then, considering his words, felt queasy. "I love you," he whispered, and that was the moment he knew what he was going to do.
When you loved someone, you put their needs before your own.
No matter how inconceivable those needs were; no matter how fucked up; no matter how much it made you feel like you were ripping yourself into pieces.
He did not realize he'd begun to cry, partly in shock and partly in acceptance, until he tasted himself, slick and salty, on Emily's lips. It was not supposed to be this way; oh, God, but how could he be a hero when saving Em would only make her hurt more? Out of comfort, Emily's hands began to stroke his back, and he wondered, Who is here for whom? Then suddenly he had to be inside her, and with an urgency that surprised him he found himself ripping at her jeans and shoving them down her thighs, wrapping her legs around him as he came.
Take me with you, he thought.
Emily straightened her clothes, her cheeks flaming. Chris could not stop apologizing, as if the fact he'd forgotten a condom was something she'd hold against him for eternity. "It doesn't matter," she said, tucking in her shirt, thinking, If you only knew.
He sat a few feet away from her, his hands clasped in his lap. His jeans were still unbuttoned, and the smell of sex carried on the wind. He felt unnaturally calm. "What do you want me to do," he said, "afterward?"
They hadn't talked about it; in fact, until this moment Emily was not entirely sure that Chris wasn't going to do something completely stupid, like throw the bullets into the shrubbery when he went to load the chamber, or knock the gun out of her hand at the last minute. "I don't know," she said, and she didn't: She'd never gotten this far in her thoughts. There was the planning, and the organization, and even the act itself-but the truth of being dead was not something she'd pictured. She cleared her throat. "Do anything," she said. "Whatever you need to."
Chris traced a pattern on the floorboards with his thumbnail, a sudden stranger. "Is there a time?" he asked stiffly.
"Just not yet," Emily whispered, and at the reprieve Chris buttoned his jeans and pulled her onto his lap. His arms closed around her and she leaned into him, thinking, Forgive me.
His HANDS WERE SHAKING as he snapped open the chamber of the gun. The Colt would hold six bullets. After one was fired, the shell remained in the revolver. He explained all this to Emily as he fumbled in his shirt pocket, as if reciting the sheer mechanics of the act would make it that much less painful.
"Two bullets?" Emily said.
Chris lifted a shoulder. "Just in case," he answered, daring her to ask him to explain something he did not really understand himself. Just in case one bullet didn't do the trick? Just in case he found that with Emily dead, he'd want to die, too?
Then the gun lay between them, a living thing. Emily picked it up, its weight bending her wrist.
There was so much Chris wanted to say. He wanted her to tell him what this horrible secret of hers was; he wanted to beg her to stop. He wanted to tell her she could still back out of this, although he felt things had gotten so far he did not quite believe it himself. So he pressed his lips against hers, hard-a brand-but then his mouth curled around a sob and he broke away before the kiss was finished, his body folding like he'd been punched. "I am doing this," he said, "because I love you."
Emily's face was still and white with tears. "I am doing this because I love you, too." She gripped his hand. "I want you to hold me," she said.
Chris moved her into his arms, her chin on his right shoulder. He committed to memory the solid weight of her, and the life that ran like a current, before pulling back slightly to give Emily room to place the gun to her head.
fandi Underwood apologized to the jury. "I work nights," she explained, "but they didn't want to keep all of you up during the time I'm usually most lucid." She'd just come off a thirty-six hour stint at the hospital, where she was a physician's assistant in the emergency room. "Just let me know if I don't make any sense," she joked. "And if I try to intubate someone with a pen, slap me."
Jordan smiled. "We certainly appreciate you being here, Ms. Underwood."
"Hey," the witness grinned. "What's a little sleep?"
She was a large woman, still dressed in hospital scrubs that had small green snowflakes printed all over them. Jordan had already established her identity for the record. "Ms. Underwood," he continued, "were you on duty the night of November seventh, when Emily Gold was brought into the emergency room of Bainbridge Memorial?"
"Yes, I was."
"Do you remember her?"
"I do. She was very young, and those are always the most terrible to see. There was a lot of activity around her at first-she was arresting as the medics brought her in-but apparently that was over in a matter of seconds, and she was pronounced dead by the time she was in the ER cubicle."
"I see. What happened next?"
"Well, standard procedure is to have someone identify the body before it's moved to the morgue. We had been told that the parents were on their way. So I started to clean her up."
"Clean her up?"
"It's customary," she said. "Especially when there's a great deal of blood; it's harder on the relatives to see that. Basically I wiped off her hands and her face. Nobody told us not to wash her."
"What do you mean?"
"In police investigations, evidence is evidence, and a corpse qualifies. But the officers who brought her in said it was a suicide. No one from the police told us to treat it differently; no one came in to do tests or anything."
"You specifically washed her hands?"
"Yes. I remember that she had on a pretty gold ring-one of those Celtic knots, you know?"
"And when did you leave the cubicle?"
"When the girl's father came in to ID the body," she said.
Jordan smiled at the witness. "Thank you," he said, "nothing further."
As JORDAN HAD EXPECTED, Barrie Delaney declined to cross-examine the physician's assistant. There was very little she could ask without making her star witness, Detective Marrone, look like a bumbling fool. So Jordan put Dr. Linwood Karpagian on the stand, thinking as he watched the man that he owed Selena a dozen roses for finding him.
The jury could not take their eyes off him. Dr. Karpagian looked like Cary Grant in his prime, with silvered hair waving off his temples and finely manicured hands that looked capable of holding your confidence, much less anything more conventionally substantial. He sat easily on the stand, accustomed to being the center of attention.
"Your honor," Barrie said, "request permission to approach."
Puckett waved the lawyers closer, and Jordan raised his brow, waiting to hear what Barrie had to say. "For the appellate record, we still have an objection to this witness."
"Ms. Delaney," Judge Puckett said, "I already ruled on this in your pre-trial motion."
As Barrie stomped back to her table, Jordan walked Dr. Karpagian through his credentials, further impressing the jury. "Doctor," he said, "how many teens have you worked with?"
"Thousands," Dr. Karpagian said. "I couldn't begin to narrow that down."
"And how many with suicidal natures?"
"Oh, I've counseled upwards of four hundred teenagers who were suicidal. And that of course doesn't count the profiles of other suicidal teens who were featured in the three books I've written on the subject."
"So you've published your findings?"
"Yes. Beside the books, I've had studies published in the Journal of Counseling and Clinical Psychology, and the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychiatry."
"Since we're not nearly as familiar as you are with the phenomenon of teen suicide, could you just give us a general overview of its characteristics?"
"Certainly. Teen suicide is an alarming epidemic, increasing every year. To an adolescent, suicide is seen as a joint statement of strength and despair. Teenagers need, more than anything, to be taken seriously. And the world of a teenager revolves around himself. Now, imagine a troubled teenager with a problem. His parents brush him off, because they either don't want to accept that their child is upset or don't have time to listen. And in response, the teenager thinks, 'Oh, yeah? Well, watch what I can do.' And he kills himself. He's not thinking of being dead. He's thinking of suicide as a way to solve the problem, to end the pain, and to say, 'So there!' all at once."
"Is there a percentage breakdown for male versus female suicides?"
"Girls try to kill themselves three times more frequently than boys, but boys succeed far more often."
"Really?" Jordan feigned amazement. In reality, he and Dr. Karpagian had fine-tuned this testimony for hours the previous week, and there was nothing the good doctor could say that was going to surprise him. "Why is that?"
"Well, when girls try to commit suicide, they often use less decisive methods. Pills, or carbon monoxide poisoning-both of which require a long period of time to do their work, during which the victim is often found alive and taken to the hospital. Sometimes they slash their wrists, but most draw the razor across laterally, not realizing that the quickest way to die is to slash vertically, along the artery. On the other hand," he said, "boys tend to use guns, or to hang themselves. Both methods are fast, death occurring before someone can save them or stop them."
"I see," Jordan said. "Is there a certain type of teenager that is more likely than another to kill him- or herself?"
"That's the intriguing thing," Dr. Karpagian said, his eyes snapping with the interest of a scholar. "A poor teenager is just as likely to try as a wealthy one. There is no real socioeconomic profile to suicidal teens."
"Are they any behaviors that just jump out and say, 'Whoa-this kid's about to kill himself!' "
"Depression," Karpagian said bluntly. "It may be something that has been going on for years; it may happen rather quickly in a matter of several months. The actual suicide is often triggered by a certain event, which- coupled with the depression-seems too overwhelming to accept."
"Would this depression be obvious to people who knew the teenager?"
"Well, you know, Mr. McAfee, that's one of the problems. Depression can manifest itself in many different ways. It's not always noticeable to friends and family. There are certain signs of suicidal behavior that psychologists recognize and that should be taken seriously, if they occur. But some teens show none of them, and some show all of them."
"What are these signs, Doctor?"
"Sometimes we see a preoccupation with death. Or a change in eating or sleeping habits. Rebellious behavior. Withdrawal from people, or outright running away. Some suicidal teens act persistently bored, or have difficulty concentrating. There may be evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, falling grades. They may neglect their appearance, exhibit personality changes, or have psychosomatic complaints. Sometimes we see kids giving away prized possessions, or joking about killing themselves. But, as I said, sometimes we don't see any of this."
"Sounds like some perfectly normal teens I know," Jordan said.
"Exactly," the psychologist said. "That's what makes it so hard to diagnose beforehand."
Jordan lifted a document, a collection of Emily Gold's medical information and interviews with neighbors, friends, and family by both Selena and the police. "Doctor, did you have a chance to look at Emily Gold's profile?"
"And what did her friends and family say about her?"
"For the most part, her parents were unaware of any depression. Likewise her friends. Her art teacher's comments suggested that although Emily wasn't talking about being upset, her artwork had taken a turn toward the macabre. It seems to me, reading between the lines, that Emily was withdrawing in the weeks before her death. She was spending quite a lot of time with Chris, which is also consistent with a suicide pact."
"A suicide pact. What does that mean, exactly?"
"Two or more deaths planned together. It's an extraordinary thought to an adult, actually-the idea of holding enough sway over someone to get them to take their life, too." He smiled sadly at the jury. "Most of you have forgotten-probably for good reason-what it was like when you were sixteen and seventeen; how crucially important it was to have someone understand you and admire you. You grow up, and things get more relative. But when you're an adolescent, that one close relationship is all consuming. You are so bonded to that peer that you wear the same kinds of clothes, you listen to the same kinds of music, you do the same kinds of things for fun, and you think alike. It only takes one teenager to conjure up the idea of suicide. It takes a variety of psychological reasons for a second teen to decide it's a good idea."
Dr. Karpagian looked at Chris, as if analyzing him now. "Teens who decide to commit suicide together are usually close. But once the decision to kill themselves is made, that small world grows even smaller. The only people they want to confide in is each other. The only people they want to see is each other. And everything narrows until the only thing that matters is the act of committing suicide: the planning, the event itself. They're going to make a collective statement to all the people who are on the outside of that very small world, the people who don't understand them."
"Dr. Karpagian, based on Emily's profile, did she seem suicidal?"
"Not having met her, the best I can say is that it is entirely possible she was depressed enough to commit suicide."
Jordan nodded. "You're saying there doesn't have to be a blatant red flag on that profile? That a girl who looks like a pretty normal teen but is just a little bit withdrawn might be suicidal?"
"It's happened before," Dr. Karpagian said.
"I see." He turned toward his notes. "Did you have a chance to look at the profile of Chris?"
It had been at Jordan's insistance that Selena created a profile, in much the same way one had been constructed for Emily, by talking to family and friends and eliciting comments. Knowing-albeit grudgingly-that Chris had never been suicidal, it wouldn't work to get him face-to-face with an expert, and then put that expert on the stand sworn to tell the truth.
"I did look it over. And the most important thing I saw in Chris Harte's profile was his preoccupation with Emily Gold. I was a psychologist long before I was an expert on suicide, you know, and there's a specific term for the kind of relationship that had developed between Chris and Emily over the years."
"Fusion." He smiled at the jury. "Just like the physicists. It means that two personalities have bonded together so strongly that a whole new personality is created, and the separate ones cease to exist."
Jordan raised his eyebrows. "Could you run that by me again?"
"In plain English," Dr. Karpagian said, "it means that Chris and Emily's minds and personalities were so connected there really was no distinction between them. They grew up so close that they couldn't function without each other. Anything that happened to one of those kids was going to affect the other. And in the case of the death of one of them, the other one literally would not be able to go on living." He looked at Jordan. "Does that make more sense?"
"It's more clear," Jordan said, "but it's hard to accept."
Dr. Karpagian smiled. "Congratulations, Mr. McAfee. That simply means you're mentally healthy."
Jordan grinned. "Don't know that Ms. Delaney would agree, sir, but I thank you." The jury tittered behind him. "So in your expert opinion, Dr. Karpagian, did you come to any conclusions about Chris Harte and Emily Gold?"
"Yes. I see Emily as being the one who was suicidal for whatever reason. And-it's important to note this-we may never know what that reason was. But something made her depressed and death seemed a way out. She turned to Chris hecause he was the person closest to her by far, and she told him she was going to commit suicide. But once she confided in Chris, he realized that if Emily was dead, there would be no reason for him to be alive."
Jordan stared at the jury. "So what you're saying is that whatever made Emily suicidal was not the same thing that made Chris suicidal?"
"No. It was most likely the simple fact that Emily was going to kill herself that made Chris agree to a suicide pact."
Jordan closed his eyes briefly. To him, that was the biggest hurdle in his defense-getting the jury even to believe that two kids could have come up with this awful idea together. The good doctor, thank God-or Selena, who'd found him-had made it seem possible. "One more thing," Jordan said. "Emily purchased a very expensive gift for someone several months before her suicide. What would you say about that kind of behavior?"
"Oh, that would be a giveaway," Dr. Karpagian said. "Something she was planning to leave behind for someone, to make sure she was remembered."
"So Emily bought this gift to let the world know she was planning on killing herself?"
"Objection," Barrie called. "Leading."
"Your Honor, this is very important," Jordan countered.
"Then rephrase, Mr. McAfee."
Jordan turned back to Dr. Karpagian. "In your expert opinion, why would Emily purchase an expensive gift like that watch, if she was indeed suicidal?"
"I'd say," the psychologist mused, "that Emily bought the watch before she decided to kill herself and involve Chris in a suicide pact. And it may indeed have been expensive, but that didn't matter." He smiled sadly at the attorney. "When you're going to kill yourself, the last thing on your mind is getting a refund."
"Thank you," Jordan said, and sat down.
BARRIE'S HEAD WAS SPINNING. She had to make an expert look like an idiot, and she had absolutely no grounding in his field. "Okay, Doctor," she said gamely, "you looked at Emily's profile. And you mentioned a lot of characteristics that teenagers sometimes exhibit when they're suicidal." She picked up her legal pad, covered with notes. "Sleeplessness is one?"
"And did you see that in Emily's profile?"
"Did you find unexplained changes in eating behavior in the profile?"
"Did Emily act rebellious?"
"Not that I could see, no."
"How about running away?"
"Was she preoccupied with death?"
"Did she appear to be bored, or have difficulty concentrating?"
"Was she abusing alcohol or drugs?"
"Was she failing any classes?"
"Was she neglecting her appearance?"
"Was she complaining of psychosomatic illnesses?"
"Did she joke about suicide?"
"So the only characteristics that led you to believe Emily might have been suicidal were that she was slightly withdrawn and out of sorts. Isn't that fairly normal for ninety-nine percent of women at least once a month?"
Dr. Karpagian smiled. "I have it on authority that that's true," he said.
"So isn't it possible that since Emily didn't exhibit most of these traits, she was not suicidal?"
"It is possible," the psychologist said.
"The few signs Emily did exhibit, would you say they are normal behaviors for a teenager?"
"All right. Now, you worked from a profile of Emily, is that correct?"
"Who made up this profile?"
"I understand the defense's investigator, Ms. Damascus, collated it. They were a series of interviews done by herself or by the State, with friends and families of the teenager in question."
"By your own testimony, Chris Harte was the closest person to Emily Gold. Were his observations part of her profile?"
"Well, no. He wasn't asked."
"But he was the one Emily turned to the most during those last weeks?"
"So he may have been able to tell you whether or not she had any of those characteristics we just listed. He probably would have seen more than anyone else."
"Yet you didn't speak to him when he was obviously your best source?"
"We were trying to make a judgment without Chris's input to keep it completely unbiased."
"That wasn't the question, Doctor. The question was, Did you interview Chris Harte?"
"No, I did not."
"You did not interview Chris Harte. He was alive and available and yet never even consulted, even though he was the best witness you had on Emily's behavior prior to her death. Short of Emily herself, that is." Barrie pinned the witness with her gaze. "And you couldn't interview Emily, could you?"
KlM Kenly APPEARED FOR her brief sojourn in court wearing a tie-dyed caftan, stamped with a hundred small handprints. "Isn't this great," she said to the bailiff escorting her to the stand. "The kindergartners gave it to me."
Jordan established her credentials and then asked how Ms. Kenly knew Emily Gold. "I taught her art throughout high school," she said. "Emily was incredibly talented. You have to understand, as a specials teacher, I see five hundred kids a day. Most of them just parade through the art room and leave a mess. There are a handful who stick with it, and have a true affinity for the subject. Maybe one or two of them even has talent. Well, Emily was the rarest of jewels. They come along once every ten years, I figure: a student who not only loves art but knows how to use her abilities to their best advantage."
"She sounds very special."
"Talented," Kim said. "And dedicated. She spent all her free time in the art room. She even had her own easel stand in the back."
Jordan lifted a series of canvases that the bailiff had brought in along with Ms. Kenly. "I have here several paintings to enter into evidence," he said, waiting until they were examined by Barrie and duly tagged by the clerk. "Can you walk us through these paintings?"
"Sure. The boy with the lollipop is one she did in ninth grade. The tenth-grade picture-the mother and child-is more developed, you see, in the facial structure? More lifelike? The subjects are also more three dimensional. This third painting, well, it's clear that Chris was the subject."
Kim Kenly smiled. "Mr. McAfee," she said, "can't you tell?"
"I can," he assured her. "But the court record can't."
"Well, then, yes. Chris Harte. Anyway, Emily captured the expression on the subject's face, as well as the realism of the features. As a matter of fact, Emily's work always reminded me a little of Mary Cassatt."
"Okay," Jordan said. "Now you've lost me. Who's Mary Cassatt?"
"A nineteenth-century painter who often used mothers and children as subjects. Emily did too, and she also showed the same attention to detail and emotion."
"Thank you," Jordan said. "So Emily's paintings developed fairly logically as she went through high school?"
"Technically, yes. There was a lot of heart there from day one, but as she progressed from ninth grade to twelfth grade, I stopped seeing what she was thinking of her subjects, and saw instead what the subject was thinking of being a subject. That's something you rarely see in amateur painters, Mr. McAfee. It's a measure of real refinement."
"Did you notice any changes in Emily's style?"
"Well, as a matter of fact I did. Last fall she was working on a painting that was so dramatically different from her usual work, it really surprised me."
Jordan drew out the final painting to enter into evidence. The free-form skull, with its storm-clouded eye sockets and lolling tongue, caught the jury's attention. One woman covered her hand with her mouth, and said, "Oh, my."
"That's what I thought, too," Kim Kenly said, nodding at the juror. "As you can see, this isn't realism anymore. It's surrealism."
"Surrealism," Jordan said. "Can you explain that to us?"
"Everyone's seen surrealist paintings. Dali, Magritte." At Jordan's blank look, she sighed. "Dali. The guy who painted the dripping clocks?"
"Oh, that's right." He glanced swiftly at the jury. Like any random group from Grafton County, its makeup was a study in contradictions. A Dartmouth economics professor was seated beside a man Jordan would bet had never in his life left his Orford dairy farm. The Dartmouth professor looked bored, and probably had known who Dali was the whole time. The farmer was scribbling on his note pad. "Ms. Kenly, when did Emily paint this?"
"She began at the end of September. She wasn't completely finished when she ... died."
"No? But it's signed."
"Yes," the art teacher said, frowning. "And titled. She obviously thought she was rather close to finishing."
"Can you tell us what Emily titled this picture?"
Kim Kenly's long red fingernail hovered over the line of the skull, across the wide tongue and the roiling clouds in the eye sockets, coming to rest on the words beside the artist's signature. "Right here," she pointed. "Self-portrait."
For a minute Barrie Delaney stared at the painting, her chin resting in her hand. Then she sighed and stood up. "Well, I can't make much sense of it," she admitted to Kim Kenly. "Can you?"
"I'm no expert. .." Kim began.
"No," Barrie interrupted. "But rest assured, the defense has found one. I wonder, though, as Emily's art teacher, if you asked her why she was painting something so disturbing."
"I did mention that it looked very different from her usual stuff. And she said that it was what she felt like painting at the time."
Barrie began to pace back and forth in front of the witness stand. "Is it unusual for painters to try different mediums, and styles?"
"Did Emily ever try her hand at sculpting?"
"Once, briefly, in tenth grade."
"How about throwing pottery?"
Barrie nodded, encouraging. "What about watercolors?"
"Yes, but she preferred oils."
"But occasionally Emily would do a painting that was out of character?"
Barrie slowly walked toward the portrait of the skull. "Ms. Kenly, when Emily first tried watercolors, did you notice anything different about her demeanor?"
"The time she attempted sculpting, did you notice any change in her behavior?"
Barrie lifted the skull portrait. "At the time she painted this painting, Ms. Kenly, was she acting markedly different from the way she usually did?"
"Nothing further," Barrie said, and she placed the painting on the exhibit table again, face down.
In THE lobby OF THE COURTHOUSE was a large swath of chairs, set like a joint between the two courtrooms. On any given day the chairs were filled with harried attorneys, people awaiting arraignments, and witnesses who'd been warned not to speak to each other. The previous two days, Michael had been seated at one end of the lobby with Melanie; Gus had been seated at the other. But today was the first day Melanie would be allowed into the trial, having given her testimony. Gus had taken her customary seat, trying desperately to read the newspaper and not notice the moment Michael came in.
As he sat down next to her, she folded the paper. "You shouldn't," she said.
"Why? As long as we say nothing that has bearing on the case, it's okay."
Gus closed her eyes. "Michael, the two of us breathing the same air in this room has bearing on the case. Just the fact that you're you, and I'm me."
"Have you seen Chris?"
"No, I'm going tonight." Gus turned, an afterthought. "Are you?"
"I don't think it would be right," he said. "Especially if I testify today."
Gus smiled faintly. "You have a strange notion of morality."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. It's just that you're already testifying for the defense. Chris would want to thank you personally for that."
"Exactly. I'm testifying for the defense. And tonight I'll probably go out and get drunk so I can forget I did it."
Gus turned in her seat. "Don't," she said, laying her hand on his arm.
They both looked down at it, radiating heat. Michael covered her hand with his own. "Will you come out with me instead?" he asked.
Gus shook her head. "I have to go to the jail," she said gently. "For Chris."
Michael glanced away. "You're right," he said evenly. "You should always do what's right for your child." And he stood up and walked down the hall.
"Ms. VERNON," JORDAN SAID, "you're an art therapist."
"Can you tell me what that is?" He smiled engagingly. "We don't get a lot of art therapists here in New Hampshire."
In fact, Sandra Vernon had been flown in from Berkeley. She had a California tan, short platinum hair, and a Ph.D. in psychology from UCLA. "Well, we work in the mental health field. Usually we're called in and we issue directives where we ask the client to draw something specific, like a house or a tree or a person. And based on what they draw and the style in which they complete the drawing, we can tell things about their psychological health."
"That's incredible," Jordan said, truly amazed. "You can look at stick figures and see what's going on in someone's mind?"
"Absolutely. With very young children, who don't have the words to tell us things, we can discover whether they've being sexually or physically abused, things like that."
"Have you worked with teens?"
"On occasion, yes."
Jordan moved behind Chris, quite intentionally placing his hand on Chris's shoulder. "Have you worked with deeply depressed and suicidal teens?"
"Can you look at an adolescent's drawing and find suggestions of sexual abuse or suicidal tendencies?"
"Yes," Sandra said. "Pictures can sometimes depict unconscious feelings that are being repressed, too raw to come to the surface in any other way."
"So you may meet a child who is not acting out, but then look at one of her pictures and see there is a huge disturbance in her life."
Jordan walked to the exhibit table and picked up the painting that Emily had done of a mother and child in tenth grade. "Could you tell me the frame of mind of the person who painted this picture?"
Sandra pulled a pair of cat's-eye glasses from her pocket and settled them on her nose. "Well, this looks like the work of a stable, well-adjusted person. You can see that the face and hands are all well-proportioned; that there's a strong element of realism; that nothing seems to be truly out of the ordinary or exaggerated; there are bright colors used."
"Okay." Jordan lifted the portrait of the skull. "How about this one?"
Sandra Vernon raised her brows. "Well," she said. "This is very different."
"Can you tell us what you see in it?"
"Sure. First off, there's a skull. That would immediately say to me that there's a possible preoccupation with death going on here. But even more telling is the way the colors red and black are juxtaposed in the background-that's a documented hint about suicide, in many art therapy studies. Also, there's a cloudy sky. Often we see paintings of clouds or rain when people are depressed and/or suicidal. . . but what's even more disturbing is the way the artist put the clouds inside the space where the eyes should have been. The eyes are symbolic of a person's thoughts. I'd say that the artist's choice here of putting a gathering downpour in the eye sockets strongly suggests there are thoughts of suicide going on in his or her own head."
She leaned over the railing of the witness box. "Could I... could you bring it closer?" Jordan walked the painting over and propped it between Sandra and the judge. "What's really disturbing, too, are some of the details in the picture. It's in the surreal style-"
"Does that make a difference?"
"Not really, no. But the way the items are put together in this picture does. You can see here that although it is a bony skull, there are also long developed eyelashes, and a highly realistic tongue coming out of the mouth. Those things send off warning signals in me about sexual abuse."
"Yes. Victims of abuse fixate on tongues, eyelashes, and wedge-shaped objects. Also belts." She squinted at the painting, considering. "And the skull is floating in the sky. Usually when we see someone who draws a floating image of a body with no hands or a detached head, it indicates that they don't have a feeling of control in their life. Their feet aren't on the ground, so to speak, so they can't walk away from whatever is bothering them."
Jordan set the painting back on the exhibit table. "Ms. Vemon, if you saw this painting in a professional capacity, what would be your clinical recommendation for the artist?"
Sandra Vernon shook her head. "I'd be very concerned about the mental state of the artist, with regard to issues of depression and even suicide," she said. "I'd suggest seeing a therapist."
MELANIE shifted IN her seat. It was the first day she'd been allowed to hear testimony, since her own stint as a witness was over. And of all the testimonies she wanted to hear, this woman from Berkeley had to be the most upsetting. Tongues. Eyelashes. Wedge-shaped objects.
Warning signals; sexual abuse.
Her hands clenched in her lap, and she clearly remembered the feel of Emily's journal, the one that she'd found tucked behind the rotted panel of the closet. The one she'd fed to the fire.
The one she'd read through to the end.
Melanie pushed past the other people in her row and stumbled out of the courtroom, past Gus Harte and her husband and a hundred other people, until she reached the ladies' room and was sick all over the floor.
"Ms. Vernon, did you go to art school?"
"Yes," Sandra said, grinning at the prosecutor. "Back when the dinosaurs were still around."
Barrie did not crack a smile. "Isn't it true that you need to gather fifteen to twenty slides of your artwork to send to an art school with your application?"
"Could this painting be illustrating an alternative style to that art school, to exhibit the artist's range?"
"Actually, schools prefer to know that an artist is fairly consistent."
"But it is possible, Ms. Vernon?"
Barrie walked over and extracted two small plastic squares from her briefcase. "I'd like to enter these into evidence," she said, placing the two compact discs on the exhibit table to be tagged. "Ms. Vernon, these are CDs taken from Emily Gold's bedroom. Can you describe them to us?"
The art therapist took the discs from the prosecutor's outstretched hand. "One's a Grateful Dead CD," she said. "A mighty good one, I should add."
"What do you see on the cover?"
"A skull, floating on a psychedelic background."
"And what about the other one?" Barrie asked.
"The Rolling Stones. With the cover art of a mouth, and a long tongue."
"Have you ever known teenagers to reproduce artwork that is important to them, Ms. Vernon?"
"Yes, we see that quite often. It's part of adolescence."
"So it is entirely possible that the artist who painted the skull might only have been copying elements from the cover art of some favorite CDs?"
"That's definitely possible."
"Thank you," Barrie said, taking back the music. "You also mentioned that you were disturbed by certain elements that you saw in the painting. Can you cite a specific source for me that says that clouds mean suicide?"
"Well, no. It's not one specific source, it's the result of studies of many directives issued to children."
"Can you give us the name of a study, then, that says a tongue coming out of the mouth indicates sexual abuse?"
"Again, it was a compilation of different cases."
"So you couldn't really say with any specificity that because there is red and black in a painting, this person is going to kill herself."
"Well, no. But in ninety out of one hundred paintings where there is red and black like that, we have found that the artists felt suicidal."
Barrie smiled. "How interesting that you should say that." She pulled out a poster, and held it up for Jordan.
"Objection," he said immediately, walking up to the bench. "What the hell is that?" he asked Barrie. "And what does it have to do with this case?"
"Come on, Jordan. It's a Magritte. I know you're a cretin when it comes to culture, but even you can see where I'm going to go with this."
Jordan turned to the judge. "If I knew she was going to put a goddamn Magritte up there, I would have done some research on the subject."
"Oh, give it up," Barrie said. "This just came to me last night. Let me have a little leeway."
"If you put that thing up on the stand," Jordan said, "then I want leeway too. I want time to find out whatever I can about Magritte."
Barrie smiled sweetly. "With your knowledge of art, by then your client could be seventy."
"I want time to research Magritte," Jordan repeated. "He was probably seeing frigging Freud."
"I'm going to allow it," Puckett said.
"What?" Barrie and Jordan spoke in unison.
"I'm going to allow it," he said. "You're the one who brought in an art expert, Jordan. Let Barrie give her something to cut her teeth on."
As Jordan stalked back to his table, Barrie entered the Magritte poster into evidence. "Do you recognize this painting?"
"Of course. It's a Magritte."
"He was a Belgian painter," Sandra explained. "He did a number of variations on that particular work." She gestured toward the image of a silhouetted man, his conservative bowler filled with clouds.
"Can you see similarities between this poster and the painting Mr. McAfee asked you to examine?"
"Sure. There are clouds, although Magritte's aren't quite as stormy, which fill not only the eyes but the entire head." Sandra smiled. "You've gotta love Magritte."
"Someone does," Jordan muttered.
"Was Magritte in therapy?" Barrie asked.
"I don't know."
"Did he receive therapy after painting this?"
"Was he depressed when he painted this?"
"I couldn't say."
Barrie turned toward the jury quizzically. "What you're telling me, then, is that art therapy is not conclusive. You can't look at a painting and say, without a doubt, that if someone paints a realistic tongue, therefore she was sexually abused. Or if someone paints a storm where her eyes should be, therefore she is suicidal. Isn't that true, Ms. Vernon?"
"Yes," the therapist conceded.
"I have another question for you," Barrie said. "In art therapy, you issue a directive to a child or teenager, correct?"
"Yes. We ask them to draw a house, a person, or a scene of some kind."
"Are most of the studies that have been done in art therapy based on directives?"
"Why are you supposed to issue a directive?"
"Part of art therapy," Sandy explained, "involves watching the person create. That's just as important as the finished product for divining what's troubling them."
"Can you give us an example?"
"Sure. A girl who is asked to draw a picture of her family and who hesitates drawing the father or completely skips drawing his lower half is possibly indicating signs of sexual abuse."
"Ms. Vernon, did you see Emily Gold painting that portrait of a skull?"
"Had you issued her a directive, to draw a self-portrait?"
"So the fact that you are being presented with this picture now, for the first time, might change the level of certainty with which you can make assumptions about this painting?"
"I'd have to say yes."
"Could it be possible, then, that Emily Gold was not suicidal when she did this painting, and that she was not sexually abused, and that... perhaps like Mr. Magritte over there ... she was only having a bad day?"
"It is possible," Sandra said. "But then again, this was a painting that was produced over a series of a couple of months, I'd wager. That's a heck of a lot of consecutive bad days."
Barrie's mouth tightened at the unintended verbal slap. "Your witness."
"I'll redirect," Jordan said. He stood up, walking toward the art therapist. "You told Ms. Delaney that you cannot say conclusively that any one of the disturbing things in Emily's painting proves that there's been sexual abuse or suicidal thoughts. This could be just another style she was attempting in order to get into the Sorbonne. But in your expert opinion, what's the likelihood of that?"
"Pretty slim. There's a lot of strange stuff going on in that picture. If it was just one or two things," Sandra said, "like a melting clock, or an apple in the middle of the face-I'd say she was trying surrealism on for size. But there's a way to show off your range without throwing in a handful of different things that raise the hackles on an art therapist's neck."
Jordan nodded, then walked toward the exhibit table and gingerly lifted the Magritte poster by his fingertips. "Now, I think if anything's been proven in this trial, it's my own absolute dearth of knowledge when it comes to art." The therapist smiled at him. "So you've definitely got me at a disadvantage here. But I'll take your word ... and Ms. Delaney's. . . that this is a Magritte."
"Yes. He was a wonderful painter."
Jordan scratched his head. "I don't know. I wouldn't hang it in my house." He turned to the jury, holding the poster up for their perusal. "Now, even I know that van Gogh cut his ear off, and Picasso's faces didn't match up, and that as a group, artists are often very emotional people. Do you know if Mr. Magritte was seeing a psychologist?"
"So he might have been mentally disturbed."
"I suppose so."
"Might he have been sexually abused?"
"It's possible," Sandy said.
"Unfortunately," Jordan continued, "I haven't had any time to do any research on Magritte, but what you're saying here is that Magritte looks, to an art therapist, like he might have had some emotional problems. Right?"
Sandy laughed. "Sure."
"You also told Ms. Delaney that most of your studies deal with directives. Is that to say you never look at random pictures to see if there might be a problem for a particular child?"
"No, we do that every now and then."
"A parent who's concerned might bring in a piece of artwork done by a child?"
"And can you determine from those pieces of artwork if a child has a problem?"
"When you look at non-directive-issued artwork, how often do you diagnose problems and later discover the artist did in fact need help?"
"Oh, nine out of ten times," Sandra said. "We're pretty discerning."
"Unfortunately," Jordan said, "Emily is not here for you to give a directive to. Maybe if she was, you could have helped her. But in lieu of that, and having seen this piece of artwork, would you as a certified art therapist have been concerned about Emily's mental health?"
"Yes, I would have."
"Nothing further." Jordan sat down, smiling at Chris.
"I'd like to recross, Your Honor." Barrie stepped in front of Sandra Ver-non. "You just told Mr. McAfee that you occasionally do preliminary assessments from art that isn't directive-issued."
"And you said that nine out of ten pictures which have disturbing elements wind up pointing to someone with mental problems that need to be resolved."
"What about the other one?"
"Well," Sandra said. "He or she is usually just fine."
Barrie smiled. "Thank you," she said.
JOAN Bertrand WAS a PLAIN, middle-aged woman whose dreamy green eyes spoke of hours spent recasting herself in the world's greatest novels or even, perhaps, with her favorite male students. Within moments of taking the stand for the defense, Chris's English teacher managed to convey that he was not only a beloved pupil, but quite possibly-in her opinion-one of next great minds of the twentieth century. Jordan gritted his teeth around a smile. Off the stand, when her only props were a chalkboard and rows of student desks, Bertrand hadn't been quite the zealot she appeared to be in a courtroom.
"What kind of student is Chris?"
Joan Bertrand clasped her hands to her heart. "Oh, excellent. I don't think I've ever given him less than an A. He was the sort of student the faculty discussed in the teacher's lounge-you know, 'Who's got Chris Harte for social studies this term?' and things like that."
"Was he in your class last fall?"
"Yes, for three months."
"Mrs. Bertrand, do you recognize this?" Jordan held up a neatly typed essay.
"Yes," she said. "Chris wrote this for Advanced Placement English. It was handed in the last week of October."
"What was the assignment?"
"To craft an argumentative essay. I told the students to take a confrontational issue, a very hot topic, and to come down on one side of it using their own personal beliefs. They were required to state a thesis, find support for it, disprove the antithesis, and come to a conclusion."
Jordan cleared his throat. "I did almost as poorly in English as I did in art," he said, full of sheepish charm. "Could you run that by me again?"
Mrs. Bertrand simpered. "They had to take an issue, state the pros and cons, and come to a conclusion."
"Ah," Jordan said. "I understand that much better."
"Most college sophomores couldn't do this. Yet Chris did a wonderful job."
"Could you tell us what Chris's essay was about, Mrs. Bertrand?"
"And what side did he favor?"
"He was very impassioned about being pro-life."
"Were the students required to actually believe in the issues they wrote about?"
"Yes. Some of them didn't, of course, but we met several times during writing conferences, and I can tell you from speaking to Chris that he was quite strong in his convictions."
"Could you read, Mrs. Bertrand, the part that's marked off on the bottom of page four?"
The teacher held the paper at arm's length, squinting. " 'There is not really an issue about choice at all. It is against the law to cut short someone's life, and that law must apply universally. To say that a fetus is not a life is to split hairs, since most bodily systems are in place at the time most abortions are undertaken. To say that it is a woman's right to choose is also unclear, because it is not only her body but another's as well.' " She glanced up, waiting.
"You're right; that is pretty clear. In your opinion, Mrs. Bertrand, would Chris Harte have killed his girlfriend because he found out she was pregnant?"
"Objection," Barrie said. "She's an English teacher, not a mind reader."
"I'll allow it," Puckett answered.
Jordan glanced at Barrie. "Would you like me to repeat that question, Mrs. Bertrand? In your opinion, would Chris Harte have killed his girlfriend because he found out she was pregnant?"
"No. He never would have done that."
Jordan flashed his dimples. "Thanks," he said.
Joan Bertrand stared after him. "No problem," she sighed.
Barrie stood up immediately. "Unlike Mr. McAfee," she said, "I used to love English. It sounds like Chris did, too. And that he was certainly one of your favorite students."
"You can't imagine him doing something as horrible as committing murder."
"And, of course, based on that very impressive essay, you can't imagine him taking a baby's life, or shooting his girlfriend in cold blood?"
"No, I can't imagine him killing anyone."
"Not even himself?"
"Oh," Mrs. Bertrand shook her head vigorously. "Certainly not."
"Well. Let me just recap, then." Barrie began counting off on her fingers. "He wouldn't have taken a life. He wouldn't have taken Emily's life, he wouldn't have let Emily take her own life, and he certainly wouldn't have killed himself. But on the other hand, we have a dead body; we have a confession from Chris saying that Emily was going to kill herself and then he was going to do the same thing; and we have all sorts of evidence placing Chris at the scene of the crime." She tipped her head to the side. "So, Mrs. Bertrand. What's your theory?"
"Objection!" Jordan roared.
"Withdrawn," Barrie said.
During lunch, Chris was taken downstairs to the sheriff's office. Jordan brought him a turkey sandwich and ate his own on a folding chair outside the cell. "I felt bad for her," Chris said, his mouth full. "Mrs. Bertrand."
"She's a nice lady."
"Yeah. Unlike the prosecutor."
Jordan shrugged. "Different jobs call for different styles," he said. "I was just as cutthroat as she was when I was an AG."
Chris smiled faintly. "You mean, as opposed to now, when you've gone all soft."
"Hey," Jordan said, holding his hand up to the bars of the lockup. "You're not starting to doubt me, are you?" When Chris didn't answer, Jordan snorted. "O ye of little faith."
At that, Chris looked up, quite serious. "I have faith," he said, "I'm just not sure in what." He set his unfinished sandwich into the foil and balled it up, discarded. "What happens," he asked, "if I'm found guilty?"
Jordan met his gaze. "You'll have a sentencing hearing," he said. "And based on that, you'll be transported down to Concord."
Chris nodded. "And that's it."
"No. We'll appeal the decision."
"Which could take forever, and go nowhere."
Jordan looked down at his sandwich, which suddenly tasted like sawdust, and did not say anything.
"You know, it's funny," Chris said. "You don't want honesty from me. And all I want is honesty from you." He turned away, running his thumbnail over the bars of the cell. "But I don't think either of us is all too damn happy with what we're getting."
"Chris," Jordan said, "I'm not giving out false hope. But your two best witnesses are still to come."
"And then what, Jordan?"
His attorney stared at him, face perfectly blank. "I don't know."
THERE WAS a SLIGHT HUBBUB in the afternoon when Stephanie Newell took the stand, and someone sitting in the back row of the courtroom threw a rotten tomato that landed square on her blouse, yelling, "Murderer!" before he ran out the door. Following a minor recess, during which Stephanie was given a clean shirt and the police were called in to deal with the small-scale anti-abortion display, the court reconvened. By the time Stephanie Newell actually got on the witness stand and stated her credentials, most of the jury had already deduced that Emily Gold had come to Planned Parenthood looking for an abortion.
"I was the counselor," she said, "assigned to Emily's case."
"Do you have a file on her?" Jordan asked.
"When did you meet with Emily?"
"I first met with her on October second."
"What did you do at that meeting?"
"I held a preliminary interview with Emily, and explained the results of the positive pregnancy test and her options."
"When was your next meeting?"
"October tenth. We require a pre-abortion counseling session, and the abortion is paid for at that time. We also ask if someone will be there to help the woman through the procedure."
"Like the father of the child?"
"Exactly. Or, in the case of a teen, her parents. But Emily indicated that her parents were not supportive, that she hadn't told the father about the baby, and that she didn't want to."
"How did you respond to that?"
"I told her that she should tell the father, if only so that she had someone to lean on."
"And when did the two of you next meet?"
"October eleventh. That was the date that the abortion was scheduled. The counselor is present to offer support before, during, and afterward."
Jordan walked toward the jury box. "Did the abortion take place?"
"No, something upset Emily and she decided against having the procedure."
Jordan leaned both elbows against the railing. "Was that strange?"
"Oh, no. It actually happens quite a lot. People back out at the very last minute all the time."
"What did you do after she decided not to abort the baby?"
Stephanie sighed. "I counseled her to tell the father."
"What was her reaction?"
"She got even more upset, so I dropped the subject," Stephanie said.
"When was the last time you met with Emily Gold, Ms. Newell?"
"On November seventh, the afternoon before she died."
"Why did you see her that day?"
"We had previously scheduled the appointment."
"Was Emily Gold upset about something that day?"
"Objection," Barrie said. "Speculative."
"Overruled," Puckett said.
"Did Emily Gold seem upset to you?" Jordan rephrased.
"Very much so," Stephanie said.
"Did she tell you why?"
"She said she felt like she'd run out of options. She didn't know what to do about the baby."
"What did you tell her?"
"I reiterated that she should talk to the father. That he might offer more support than she expected."
"How much time did you spend talking about whether or not she should tell the father?" Jordan asked.
"Most of the session ... an hour."
"In your opinion, when she left that office, was she going to tell the father about the baby?"
"No. Nothing I said could make her change her mind."
"During the five weeks you met with her, did Emily at any time waver about whether or not she was going to tell the father about the baby?"
"Do you have any reason to believe that she would have changed her mind after that last session?"
"No, I don't."
Jordan sat down. "Your witness," he said.
Barrie walked toward the witness box. "Ms. Newell, you met with Emily on November seventh?"
"She had a four o'clock appointment. From four to five."
"Are you aware that Emily Gold's death occurred sometime between eleven and midnight that night?"
"Between five and eleven is, let's see ..." Barrie tapped her chin. "Six hours. Were you with Emily during that time?"
"No, I wasn't."
"Did you ever meet Chris?"
"Were you party to any of their conversations together during the six hours before she died?"
"So, Ms. Newell," Barrie said, "is it possible that Emily did decide to tell Chris about the baby, after all?"
"Well... yes, I guess so."
"Thank you," the prosecutor said.
Michael Gold walked to the stand with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man. He kept his eyes trained on the judge, deliberately refusing to see either Melanie, on his left, or James Harte, on his right. As soon as he was seated, his hand on the Bible, he looked at Chris. And he thought, I am doing this for you.
In his heart, he could not imagine Chris murdering his daughter. The prosecution could have shown Michael a smoking gun with Chris's hand still on it, and he'd have had trouble believing it. But there was a small seed of doubt in his mind, one with the potential to grow to enormous proportions, which asked, How do you know? And he didn't. No one did but Chris, and Emily, and it was possible that Chris had done the unthinkable. Which was why he would not give Jordan McAfee what he wanted.
Michael and Jordan had met four nights ago to go over his testimony. "If you tell the jury outright that Chris did not kill your daughter," Jordan had said, "then Chris will have a fighting chance."
Michael had politely agreed to think about it. But what if? that little voice had said. What if?
He stared, now, at the boy his daughter had loved. The boy who'd made a baby with her. And he silently apologized for what he would not say.
"Mr. Gold," Jordan said gently, "thank you for being here today." Michael nodded. "It must seem strange to be testifying for the defense," he added. "After all, this is a murder trial, and the defendant is accused of killing your daughter."
"Can I ask you why you decided to testify today, for the defense?"
Michael licked his lips, his brain mechanically shuffling forth the answer he'd practiced with Jordan. "Because I knew Chris every bit as well as I knew my daughter."
"I'll be brief, Mr. Gold, and I'll try to make this as painless as possible. Could you describe your relationship with Emily?"
"I was very close to her. She was my only child."
"Tell us about Chris. How did you know him?"
Michael's eyes touched on Chris, sitting very still in his chair. "I've known him since the day he was born."
"What was the age difference between Chris and Emily?"
"Three months. In fact Chris's mother helped deliver Emily-I was a little late. Chris was in the hospital room with my daughter before I was."
"And you watched them grow up together?"
"Oh, yeah. They were inseparable, from the first day they shared a bassinet. Chris used to be underfoot in our house just as much, I guess, as Emily used to be underfoot at the Hartes'."
"When did they move from being friends to ... something more?"
"They started dating when Emily was thirteen."
"How did you feel about that?" Jordan asked.
Michael picked at the sleeve of his sportsjacket. "How does any father feel about that?" he mused. "I was protective; she was always going to be my little girl. But I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather have Emily explore all that with. It was going to happen at some point, and I knew and trusted Chris. I certainly trusted him with the most important thing in my life-my daughter. In fact I'd been trusting him with her for years, by then."
"What was your perception of their relationship?"
"They were very, very close. More so than the average teenager, I think. They confided in each other all the time. God ... I can't think of anything Emily didn't tell Chris. He was her best friend, and she was his, and if that was moving onto a slightly more adult level, it was probably time for it."
"How much time did she spend with Chris?"
"Hours." Michael smiled faintly. "Every waking minute, it sometimes seemed."
"Would it be fair to say that Chris saw Emily more than you did?"
"Yes." He grinned. "I guess I saw her about as much as any parent sees a teenager."
Jordan laughed. "I know what you mean, I've got one of them at home. At least I hope he's at home." He walked toward the witness stand. "So you didn't see Emily all that often, timewise, but you still felt very close to her?"
"Absolutely. We always ate breakfast together, and we'd talk the whole time."
Jordan softened the edges of his voice. "Mr. Gold, did you know that Emily was sexually active?"
Michael turned red. "I... maybe I suspected it. But I don't think any father really wants to know that."
"Was it something Emily discussed with you?"
"No. I think it would have made her as uncomfortable as it makes me."
Jordan reached toward the railing of the witness stand, bridging the distance between himself and Michael. "Did she tell you she was pregnant?"
"I had no idea."
"To your knowledge, did she tell your wife?"
"She was very close to you and your wife, but she didn't tell you?"
"No." Michael looked up at Jordan, offering the smallest gift he could. "I think it was the sort of thing Emily wouldn't have told anyone."
"So Emily didn't mention her pregnancy. Did she tell you she was depressed?"
"No, she didn't." Michael swallowed, knowing it was coming to this. "And I didn't notice it myself."
"You didn't see her all that often because she was with Chris-"
"I know," Michael said, his voice hollow. "But that doesn't work as an excuse. She hadn't been eating very much; and she was under a great deal of stress, with college applications and everything. And I thought... I thought that there was just a lot going on in her life." He reached for a glass of water set out for the witness and took a sip, blotting his lips with the back of his hand. "I keep thinking," he said softly, "that I'm going to find a note. One that I can use to make myself feel better. But I haven't.
"It hurts to lose my daughter. It hurts more than anything else has ever hurt in my life. And because it hurts so much, it's very tempting to pass the blame. It makes it much easier for me, for my wife ... for any parent out there who this might happen to in the future, if we say, 'Oh, there were no signs to see. She wasn't suicidal; she was murdered.' " Michael turned to the jury. "A father ought to be able to tell that his daughter's suicidal, right? Or even depressed? But I didn't. If I can point a ringer at someone else, then it's not my fault that I didn't notice; that I wasn't looking closely." He raked one hand through his silver hair. "I don't know what happened at the carousel that night. But I do know that I can't accuse someone else, just so that I won't feel guilty."
Jordan let out the breath he'd been holding. Gold had given more than he'd expected, and-feeling optimistic-he decided to push a little. "Mr. Gold," he said, "we have two scenarios here: murder or suicide. Neither is something you want to believe, but the fact remains that somehow, some way, your daughter is dead."
"Objection," Barrie said. "Is there a question before the witness?"
"I'm getting to the point, Your Honor. Give me some leeway."
"Overruled," Puckett said.
Jordan turned back to Michael. "You say you knew Chris as well as you knew Emily. Having known Chris his whole life-and as a long-term witness to Chris and Emily's relationship-was it murder, or was it suicide?" Michael held his head in his hands. "I don't know. I just don't know." Jordan stared at him. "What do you know, Mr. Gold?" There was a long silence. "That Chris wouldn't have wanted to live without my daughter," Michael said finally. "And that even though he's sitting over there, he's not the only one who should be judged."
Barrie Delaney did not like Michael Gold. She had not liked him at her first meeting, when he seemed absolutely incapable of grasping the fact that all the evidence pointed to the boy next door offing his own daughter. She liked him even less when she'd found out that he was testifying for the defense. And now, after his self-flagellation on the stand, she absolutely couldn't stand him.
"Mr. Gold," she said, oozing false sympathy, "I am so sorry you have to be here today."
"So am I, Ms. Delaney."
She crossed in front of the witness stand, until she was aligned at the edge of the jury box. "You said you were very close to Emily," she said.
"You also said you didn't spend as much time with your daughter as Chris did." Michael nodded. "You said you didn't know she was upset."
"You didn't know she was pregnant."
"No," Michael admitted. "I didn't."
"You also said she told Chris everything."
"You couldn't imagine anything Emily didn't tell Chris."
"So she would have told Chris she was pregnant, correct?"
"I... I don't know."
"Yes or no?"
"Yes, I guess."
Barrie nodded. "Mr. Gold, you said that you came here because you know Chris Harte so well."
"But this trial is about your daughter, and what happened to her. Either she committed suicide, or she was murdered. It's a horrific choice, just as Mr. McAfee said. It's terrible that it has to be your next-door neighbor who stands charged; and it's even more terrible that it's your daughter who is dead, but the fact is the jury has those two choices, Mr. Gold. And so do you." She took a deep breath. "Can you actually see your daughter picking up a gun, holding it to her head, and pulling the trigger?"
Michael closed his eyes, doing what the prosecutor asked, for the sake of Emily and his wife and that strident voice inside his head. He imagined Emily's beautiful face, amber eyes drifting shut, the gun nuzzling her temple. He imagined a hand wrapped around that gun with confidence, with despair, with pain. But he could not say for sure that it was Emily's.
He felt tears streak from the corners of his eyes, and he curled slightly on the stand, as if to protect himself.
"Mr. Gold?" the prosecutor prompted.
"No," he whispered. He shook his head, the tears coming faster now. "No."
Barrie Delaney turned to the jury. "Then what," she asked, "are we left with?"
The ACT OF CHANGING from his trial clothes to his prison uniform seemed to Chris a shedding of skin, as if in peeling off the blazer and natty trousers he also removed a layer of civility and social grace, leaving him raw and primal back in his cell. For the first hour after returning from the courthouse, Chris wouldn't speak to anyone, and other inmates were careful not to approach him. He had to breathe in the stale air of the jail until it was all that filled his lungs, cramp himself to his accommodations, and only then could he move with the sure footing and indifference he'd cultivated after seven months in prison.
He ventured into the day room of the medium security unit, aware of a buzz and disquietude. Several of the other men cast furtive glances in his direction, then looked at the TV or the walls or the row of lockers. Chris had been there long enough to know that people left you alone during your trial, but this went deeper. They were not ignoring him; they were keeping a secret.
He walked over to a table surrounded by men. "What?" he said simply.
"Man, didn't you hear? Vernon hung himself at the State Pen last night. With a friggin' pair of shoelaces."
Chris shook his head to clear it. "He what?"
"He's dead, man."
"No." Chris backed away from the knot of inmates watching him. "No." He walked swiftly to the cell he'd shared with Steve a month earlier.
He could bring Steve's face to mind more easily now than he could Emily's. He thought of what Steve had said before he was transferred, about what they did in Concord to convicts who'd killed children.
By the end of the week, Chris could be heading to the state prison, too.
He burrowed beneath his blankets, shaking quietly with grief and fear until he heard himself being paged to Control to meet a visitor.
Gus threw her arms around Chris the minute he came close enough for her to do so. "Jordan tells me it's going well," she enthused. "Couldn't be better."
"You're not there," Chris said stiffening. "And what's he supposed to say? That you're not getting your money's worth?"
"Well," Gus said, settling into her bridge chair. "He has no reason to lie."
Chris bent his head, massaging his temples. "Saint Jordan," he muttered.
There was nobody else in the visiting room. Usually Gus arrived earlier, but with the trial she'd had to get home to Kate and make dinner before she struck off again to visit Chris. Chris, who seemed awfully agitated. Gus peered at him curiously. "Are you all right?" she asked.
He rubbed his eyes, and blinked up at her. "Fine," he said. "Peachy." He started to drum his fingertips on the table, and looked at the officer posted by the stairs.
"Jordan says I'm the star witness," Gus said. "He told me that the jury's going to ride my emotion all the way to a not guilty verdict."
Chris jerked. "Sounds like something he'd say."
"You seem very edgy tonight," Gus said. "But from all accounts, Michael helped you tremendously today. Jordan's done a remarkable job up to this point. And certainly you know I'd do handsprings to get you free, Chris."
"What I'm saying, Mom," Chris answered, "is that the jury may not want to see your handsprings. That they've already made up their minds."
"That's crazy. That's not the way the system works."
"What do you know about the way the system works? Is it right that I've been in jail for nearly a year, just waiting for a trial? Is it right that my lawyer's never once asked me, Hey, Chris. What really happened?" He leveled cold blue eyes on his mother. "Have you thought about it, Mom? This trial's going to be over in a day. Have you thought about what color you're going to paint my room when they take me away for the rest of my life? About what I'm going to look like, at forty and fifty and sixty, when I've been living in a room the size of a closet all those years?"
He was quivering by the time he finished, and there was a wildness to his gaze that Gus recognized as the edge of panic. "Chris," she soothed, "that isn't going to happen."
"How do you know?" he cried. "How the hell do you know?"
From the corner of her eye, Gus saw the officer take a step toward them. She shook her head slightly, and he resumed his post at the stairs. Then she gently touched Chris's arm, carefully masking her own fear at seeing her son red-faced and trembling. She realized what a strain it must be to be eighteen, and listening to strangers decide your life. It was just as James had told her: Chris was wearing a mask in the courtroom. Simply being able to sit there without breaking down spoke volumes about his determination, and his character. "Sweetheart," she said, "I can understand why this is so frightening-"
"No you can't!"
"I can. I'm your mother. I know you."
Chris's head swiveled toward her slowly, a bull about to charge. "Oh?" he said. "And what do you know?"
"I know that you're the same wonderful son I've, always loved. I know that you're going to get through this, like you've gotten through everything else. And I know that the jury isn't going to convict someone who's innocent."
Chris was shaking so hard at this point that Gus's hand fell away from his shoulder. "What you don't know, Mom," he said softly, "is that I shot Emily." And with a muffled cry, he turned and fled up the stairs to the guards who would safely lock him away.
Gus MADE IT THROUGH SIGNING OUT at the control booth, past the officer who unlocked the jail door, and all the way to her car before she fell to her knees in the parking lot and threw up. I'm your mother, she had said. I know you. But apparently, she hadn't. She wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her jacket and slid behind the wheel of the car, blindly fumbling the keys into the ignition before realizing she was in no condition to drive.
Chris had said it, clear as day. He shot Emily. And while Gus had defended him from gossip and slander and even his father's indifference, she had been playing the fool.
Small darts stabbed at her mind: Chris's shirt at the hospital, covered with blood; Chris's reluctance to talk to Dr. Feinstein; Chris admitting with relief that he'd never been suicidal. She rested her forehead against the steering wheel and moaned softly. Chris, oh, God, Chris had killed Emily.
How could she not have seen through him?
She put the car into gear and drove slowly out of the parking lot of the jail. She would go home and tell James and he'd know what to do ... no, she couldn't tell James, because then he would tell Jordan McAfee, and even Gus's rudimentary knowledge of criminal defense told her that would be a bad idea. She would go home and pretend that she had never come to visit her son that night. In the morning, everything would look different.
And then she'd be put on the witness stand.
It STRUCK Gus AS STRANGE that in the legal system, there was an immunity that could protect you from testifying against your husband, but there was nothing that you could hold up as a shield to keep you from testifying against your child. Odd, since a child was the one who had your smile, or your eyes, or at the very least, your blood running through its veins. Gus would have been ten times more likely to give evidence against James than Chris. And it was not a matter of perjury, in her battered mind, but motherhood.
She was wearing a garnet-colored dress whose gathered sleeves only set off the fact that she was trembling uncontrollably. Gus had fixed a smile on her face, certain that if she even let her lips relax from their rictus the slighest bit, she would blurt out what she knew. She stood outside the double doors of the courtroom, having been told by Jordan that she'd be the first-and only-witness called that day. The bailiff stood across from her, impassive.
Suddenly the door opened, and she was led down the courtroom aisle. She kept her eyes on her feet the whole way. As she sat down in the small box, she thought, How much bigger is the one they'll fock Chris in for life?
She knew that Jordan had wanted her to look at Chris as soon as she was seated, but she kept her gaze trained on her lap. She could feel her son, a magnetic pull toward her left, his nerves jangling nearly as loudly as hers. But if she lifted her eyes to his, she knew that she'd start to cry.
Suddenly a thick, worn Bible was thrust before her. The clerk of the court instructed her to place her left hand on it and raise her right. "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
So help you God. For the first time since entering the courtroom, Gus locked her gaze with her son's. "Yes," she said, in a voice that carried. "I do."
JORDAN DIDN'T KNOW WHAT the hell had happened to Gus Harte. Every time he'd seen her-Christ, even the night her son was carted off by the local police with an arrest warrant-she'd seemed self-possessed and beautiful. Slightly wild and natural, with that tumble of strawberry curls, but lovely all the same. Today, however, on the one day he'd needed her to be perfect, she was a total mess. Her hair was straggling from a hasty braid; her face was pale and pinched without makeup; her fingernails were bitten to the quick.
Being a witness affected everyone differently. Some people grandstanded. Some seemed in awe of the system. Most settled down to the task with a suitable amount of reverence. Gus Harte only looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but there.
Squaring his shoulders, Jordan walked toward her. "Could you state your name and address for the record?"
Gus leaned toward the microphone. "Augusta Harte," she said. "Thirty-four Wood Hollow Road, Bainbridge."
"And could you tell us how you know Chris?"
"I'm his mother."
Jordan turned his back to the jury and Barrie Delaney and smiled at Gus, hoping to loosen her up. Relax, he mouthed silently. "Mrs. Harte, tell us about your son."
Gus's eyes darted nervously around the courtroom. On one side she saw Melanie, with her stone face, and Michael, his hands clenched on his knees. On the other side was James, who was nodding at her slightly. Her mouth opened and closed silently. "Chris is-he's a very good swimmer," she finally said, and Jordan wheeled about.
"A good swimmer?"
"He holds the school record for the two-hundred-meter butterfly," she rambled, "We're very proud of him. His father and I."
Jordan advanced on her before she could stray farther from their planned testimony. "In your opinion, would you say he's responsible? Trustworthy?"
He could sense Barrie behind him, her confusion palpable as she considered whether or not to object to Jordan leading his star witness. "Oh, yes," Gus said nervously, looking into her lap. "Chris always acted well beyond his years. I would trust him with my-" She stopped abruptly. "With my life," she finished.
"You knew Emily Gold," Jordan said, baffled by now, but knowing he had to stop Gus from saying things the jury did not need to hear. "For how long?"
"Oh," Gus said softly. Her eyes sought Melanie's, in the gallery. "I was Melanie Gold's labor coach. I saw Emily before her own mother did."
Thank God, Jordan thought. "How long did the Golds live next door?"
"For eighteen years," Gus said. "Chris and Emily spent most of those years joined at the hip."
"By that, you mean they were never apart?"
"Yes," Gus said evenly. "They might as well have been twins." Then what happened! she thought, the question reverberating in her mind. "They used to have their own language, and sneak out of the house to see each other, and-
Then what happened?
"-stick up for each other-"
Jordan nodded. "You were close to Emily's parents, too?"
"We were very good friends," Gus said thickly. "Like an extended family. Chris and Em grew up like brother and sister."
"When did Chris and Emily become boyfriend and girlfriend?"
"Chris was fourteen," Gus said.
"Did you and the Golds encourage this relationship?"
"We asked for it," she murmured.
"Do you think Chris loved Emily?"
"I know he did," Gus said firmly. "I know." But she was thinking of what she had felt with Michael, even as she was drawn to him-that need to pull away flaring just as strong. And she was wondering if maybe you could not go from brother and sister to boyfriend and girlfriend, add that much more love and commitment, without feeling too close for comfort. Is that what happened?
Jordan narrowed his eyes as he suddenly pinpointed what was the matter with this very odd testimony: Gus wasn't looking at Chris-in fact, she seemed reluctant to do so, which was something the jury would certainly notice. "Mrs. Harte," Jordan said. "Can you look at your son for me?"
Gus slowly turned her head. She took a deep breath and resolutely stared at Chris, quickly pinching away the tears at the corners of her eyes. "This boy," Jordan continued. "This son you've known for eighteen years. Would he ever have hurt Emily Gold?"
"No," Gus whispered, her gaze sliding away from her son. She swiped the tears away quickly with the back of her hand. "No," she repeated shakily.
She felt Chris's eyes on Tier, begging her to look at him. So she lifted her face to his, and saw what the jury could not: his eyes tortured and his mouth tight with pain, as he watched his mother lie for him.
"I know how hard this is for you, Mrs. Harte." Jordan walked over to the witness stand, his hand on her arm, tender and solicitous. "I only have one more question. In your opinion-"
Gus knew what was coming. She'd rehearsed it with Jordan McAfee; she'd lived it a thousand times the night before. She closed her eyes, anticipating the actual words that would make her forsworn.
At the rough, broken voice, Gus's eyes snapped open. Jordan turned, as did the judge and the prosecutor, to stare at Chris Harte. "Stop. Just stop it."
Judge Puckett's brows beetled together. "Mr. McAfee," he said, "would you control your client?"
Jordan crossed the courtroom and firmly grasped Chris's arm, his back to the jury. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Jordan," Chris said urgently, "I need to talk to you."
"I have one question left. Then I'll call a recess. All right?"
"No. I have to talk to you now."
Jordan took a deep breath and raised his head, seemingly smooth, years of training giving him the ability to mask how absolutely furious he was. "Your Honor, may I approach the bench?"
Barrie, completely in the dark, walked up to the judge beside him. "Look," Jordan said. "My client is telling me he has to talk to me immediately. Could we take a short recess?"
Puckett frowned. "This damn well better be crucial," he said. "You've got five minutes."
Jordan found them a small room in the courthouse not much bigger than Chris's cell. "Okay," he said, clearly angry. "What's this all about?"
"I don't want my mother on the stand anymore," Chris said.
"Too damn bad," Jordan spat. "She's the best defense you've got."
"Take her off."
"There's only one question left, Chris. The jury has to hear your mother say that she can't possibly imagine her son killing Emily Gold."
Chris glared at Jordan, as if the attorney had never spoken. "I want you to take her off the stand," he said, "and put me on."
For a moment, Jordan was speechless. "You get on that stand, and you'll lose this case," he said.
Defense attorneys did not, as a rule, put their clients on the stand. It was too easy for a prosecutor to trip up a defendant, or twist words around. Just one anxious misstep-one nervous glance-and even the most innocent defendant would look like a liar to a jury.
Putting Chris on the stand, though, was absolutely out of the question for a different reason. By his own admission, Chris hadn't wanted to kill himself. Any half-decent prosecutor would be able to get that out of him. And Jordan's entire defense strategy had been predicated on an interrupted double suicide. Yet Jordan had a sick, sinking feeling that telling his own story was exactly what Chris wanted to do.
"You get up there," Jordan said, a vein throbbing in his temple, "you go to prison. It's that simple. You're a witness, you have to tell the truth. I've spent four days telling everyone you wanted to blow your brains out, and you're going to go up there and start telling everyone you weren't going to kill yourself and then what the hell happens to my defense?"
For a moment Chris did not say anything. Then he turned, speaking so quietly Jordan had to strain to hear him. "Seven months ago, you told me the decision to testify was mine, and mine alone. You told me that if I wanted to go on the stand, you had to put me up there by law."
They stared at each other, a stalemate. Then Jordan broke away, holding his hands up. "Fine," he said. "Fuck it." And he walked out of the room.
HE ALMOST COLLIDED WITH Selena. "What the hell," she asked, "is going on?"
Jordan took Selena's arm and drew her a distance from some of the onlookers whose heads were turned their way. "He wants to take the stand."
Selena sucked in her breath. "What did you tell him?"
"That I'd be the first to wish him well at the state prison." He threw back his head. "Jesus Christ, Selena. We had a fighting chance."
"You had better than a fighting chance," she said softly.
"I might as well just bring him in to Delaney and tell her it's an early Christmas present."
Selena shook her head sympathetically. "Why does he want to do this?" she asked. "And why now?"
"He's discovered his conscience. He's seen God. Shit, I don't know." Jordan buried his hands in his hair. "He wants to tell the jury that he wasn't going to kill himself. He doesn't want his mother to do it for him. The fact that it makes me and the whole defense look ludicrous is beside the point."
"You really think that's what he's going to say?" Selena asked.
Jordan snorted. "For God's sake," he muttered. "What could be worse than that?"
He WALKED BACK INTO THE ROOM, where Chris was calmly sitting, and slapped a piece of paper onto the table. "Sign this," he snapped.
"What is it?"
"It's a waiver. It says that you're willingly about to screw yourself even though I told you not to, so that I don't get sued when you appeal to the Supreme Court for ineffective assistance of counsel. You may be willing to put your ass on the line, Chris, but I'm not."
Chris picked up the pen that Jordan handed him and scrawled his name.
THE COURT WAS a LIVING THING, vibrating with rumors and questions as Jordan stood up to face Gus Harte on the stand for the second time. "Thank you," he said abruptly. "No further questions."
It was almost worth it, he thought, to see Barrie's face when he did that. The prosecutor knew-as did Jordan-it did no good to put the defendant's mother on the stand without trying to get her to state that Chris would never have killed Emily.
Stupefied, Barrie got to her feet. She'd been willing to bet her salary, however meager, that the reason Chris had leaped to his feet was because he had one terrific question for Jordan to put to his mother, or why else would he have stopped the direct examination right in the middle? She walked gingerly toward the witness stand, fully aware that she was treading through a minefield, and wondered what the hell she was supposed to get out of a cross.
Well, she thought, I might as well do it for McAfee. "Mrs. Harte," she said, "you're the defendant's mother?"
"You don't want to see him go to jail, do you?"
"Of course not."
"It would be pretty hard for any mother to imagine her son would kill anyone, don't you think?"
Gus nodded, and sniffed loudly. Barrie glanced up sharply, aware that one more question might send the witness off the deep end again, and make Barrie look like a dragon. She opened her mouth, and then closed it. "No further questions," she said, and quickly walked back to her seat.
Gus Harte was escorted from the witness stand, and Barrie busied herself with her notes. Jordan would say that the defense rested, and then it was up to her to drive home her verdict with a closing argument. Which, she had to admit, would be gravy after that last witness. She could hear her own voice, ringing with conviction. And his own mother . . . Chris Harte's own mother . . . could not even look at him during her testimony.
"Your Honor," Jordan said, "we have one more witness."
"You what?" Barrie exclaimed, but Jordan was already calling Christopher Harte to the stand.
"Objection!" Barrie sputtered.
Judge Puckett sighed. "Counsel, meet in chambers. Bring the defendant."
They followed the judge into his offices, Chris hanging back. Barrie began speaking before the door had even fully shut. "This is a total surprise, Your Honor. I was given no notice that this was going to happen today."
"Yeah, well, you're not the only one," Jordan said sourly.
"Would you like a recess, Barrie?" Puckett asked.
"No," she muttered. "But a little more courtesy would have been nice."
As if she hadn't spoken, Jordan slapped the waiver down in front of the judge. "I told him I don't want him to take the stand, and that it could ruin his defense."
Judge Puckett glanced at Chris. "Mr. Harte, has your lawyer explained the full ramifications of what taking the stand means for you in your case?"
"He has, Your Honor."
"And you signed this form here saying that your lawyer did indeed explain this to you?"
"All right," the judge shrugged. He led the small entourage back into the courtroom.
"The defense," said Jordan, "calls Christopher Harte to the stand."
Jordan moved in front of the defense table, advancing on his client. He could see the jury, sitting on the edge of their seats. And Barrie, who looked like the cat that had swallowed the canary, and why shouldn't she? She could cross-examine Chris in Swahili and still win this case.
"Chris," Jordan said, "are you aware you are on trial for the murder of Emily Gold?"
"Can you tell us how you felt about Emily Gold?"
"I loved her more than anything in the whole world."
Chris's voice was clear and steady; Jordan had to admire the kid. It wasn't easy to get up in front of a courtroom that had probably already sentenced you in their minds and offer up your own version of the story. "How long had you known her?"
Everything about Chris softened: the lines of his body, the edges of his words. "I knew Emily her whole life."
Jordan wildly wondered where to go from there. His objective, for what it was worth, was to forestall the blow. "What were your earliest memories?"
"Objection," Barrie called. "Do we really have to sit through eighteen years of this?"
Judge Puckett nodded. "Let's get on with it, counselor."
"Can you tell me about your relationship with Emily?"
"Do you know," Chris said softly, "what it's like to love someone so much, that you can't see yourself without picturing her? Or what it's like to touch someone, and feel like you've come home?" He made a fist, and rested it in the palm of his other hand. "What we had wasn't about sex, or about being with someone just to show off what you've got, the way it was for other kids our age. We were, well, meant to be together. Some people spend their whole lives looking for that one person," he said. "I was lucky enough to have her all along."
Jordan stared at Chris, stunned into silence by his speech, like everyone else in the courtroom. This was not the tone of an eighteen-year-ofd. This was someone older, wiser, sadder.
"Was Emily suicidal?" he asked suddenly.
"Yes," Chris answered.
"Can you tell us, Chris, what happened on the night of November seventh?"
Chris lowered his eyes. "It was the night Emily wanted to kill herself. I got the gun, like she asked me to. I drove her to the carousel. We talked for a while, and ... whatever." His voice drifted off, and Jordan watched him carefully, aware that he was back at the carousel again, back with Emily. "And then," Chris said quietly, lifting his gaze to his attorney's, "I shot her."
The COURTROOM ERUPTED, reporters running for their cell phones and Melanie Gold shouting and pointing a finger as her husband, pale and silent, dragged her away. "I need a recess, Your Honor," Jordan said tightly, and physically hauled Chris off the witness stand and out of the courtroom. Barrie Delaney laughed out loud. Gus sat very still, tears running unchecked down her cheeks. Beside her, James was rocking slightly back and forth, whispering, "Oh, God. Oh, my God." After a minute, he turned to Gus and reached for her hand, but what he saw in her face stopped him. "You knew," he whispered.
Gus bowed her head, unable to admit it, equally unable to deny.
She expected to feel a slight rush of the air beside her as James vacated his seat to pace, to think, to just get the hell away. But instead, she felt his hand, warm and firm, steal around hers. And she held on for dear life.
Back IN THE TINY VESTIBULE, Jordan sat with his head in his hands. He did not move, or speak, for a full sixty seconds. When he began to talk, his head was still lowered. "Is this about getting an appeal?" he said evenly. "Or do you just have a death wish?"
"Neither," Chris said.
"You want to tell me, then, what's going on?"
Jordan's voice was soft, too soft for the roiling emotions in his head. He wanted to throttle Christopher Harte for making him look like an idiot, not once, but twice. He wanted to kick himself for being such a smartass and not asking Chris ten minutes ago what he was going to say on the stand. And he wanted to slap the grin off the prosecutor's face, because she knew and he knew who was going to win.
"I wanted to tell you before," Chris said. "You just didn't want to listen."
"Well, since you've fucked everything up royally, you might as well tell me everything." At the very outrageousness of that, Jordan laughed. For the first time in ten years, maybe longer, he was going to be forced to salvage a case with the truth. Because it was absolutely all he had left.
He had learned long ago that the truth did not belong in a courtroom. No one-not the prosecutor, and more often, not the defendant-wanted it there. Trials were about evidence, counter-evidence, and theories. Not what had actually occurred. But the evidence and counter-evidence and theories had all just gone down the toilet. And the only thing Jordan had to fly with was this kid, this stupid kid, who felt honor bound to tell the world what had really happened.
Fifteen minutes later, Jordan and Chris left the small room, shoulder to shoulder. Neither one of them was smiling. Neither one of them spoke. They walked quickly, their strides parting the crowds who had heard the rumors and who stared after them with their mouths gaping. At the door of the courtroom, Jordan turned to Chris. "Whatever I do, go along with it. Whatever I say, just play along." He saw Chris hesitate. "You owe me this," he hissed.
Chris nodded, and together they pushed open the door.
It WAS SO QUIET in THE COURTROOM that Chris could hear his own pulse. He was back on the witness stand, his hands sweating and shaking so badly he had to tuck them beneath his thighs. He had looked at his parents only once; his mother had been smiling weakly and nodding at him. His father- well, his father was still there.
He did not let himself look at Emily's parents, although he could feel their fury, poker-hot, all the way from the gallery.
He was very, very tired. The weave of the sportsjacket was scratchy through the thin oxford cloth shirt, and his new shoes had rubbed a blister on his heel. His head felt like it was going to burst.
And then, suddenly, he heard Emily's voice. Clear, calm, familiar. She was telling him everything would be all right, saying that she wouldn't leave him. Chris glanced around wildly, trying to gauge if everyone else could hear this, too, hoping to see her, even as he felt a stillness stroke over his heart.
"Chris," Jordan said again, "what happened the night of November seventh?"
Chris took a deep breath and began to speak.